Thursday, April 26, 2007

California Prison Deal

The Schwarzenegger Administration has struck a deal for resolving the prison "crisis" that includes a great deal of borrowing for prison construction, forced shipment of 8,000 prisoners out of state, and nothing to reduce the highest recidivism rate in the United States. Read all about another step down the long road from golden to gulag California.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Death Comes to Class

Going on ten days later we still don't have much insight into the Virgina Tech gunman's actual motives. There's the familiar mix of isolation, misery, rejection, and rage, but the actual triggering event, and the ability to punish random strangers - and so many of them - is still not understood. The Los Angeles Times did have a sad story today about his path through a morning French class and the death he left in his wake.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Day 6: "That Haunted Face"

The backgrounders on Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho are starting to appear. The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times have long front page reportage based on family interviews. We do need to figure this out, but we're not getting anywhere so far. Cho's sister summed it up in her apology on Friday: “This is someone that I grew up with and loved,” she said. “Now I feel like I didn’t know this person.”

The stories are still doing a lot of recycling. Non-malignant shunning remains a theme: "His junior-year roommates mostly ignored him because he was so withdrawn. If he said something, it was weird."

One story has some info about what the cops were doing between 7:15, when the first two killings occurred at the dorm, and 9:15, when the bloodbath in the engineering building began:

The campus police received a 911 call at 7:15, when the rest of the campus was still opening its eyes, the thousands of students who commuted to school not yet on the grounds.

Classes had not begun, and the campus was not alerted to the dormitory killings. The university police quickly picked up some information, and the nature of it led them to make a decision and follow a trail. Ms. Hilscher’s roommate, Heather Haughn, had shown up at 7:30 to meet her and accompany her to class. Instead, she encountered the campus police.

One of the things she told them was that Ms. Hilscher [Cho's first victim] had a boyfriend, Karl D. Thornhill, a senior at nearby Radford University; Ms. Hilscher had spent the weekend with him at his off-campus townhouse, and he had dropped her off at her dorm that morning. Ms. Haughn also told them that Mr. Thornhill had guns and had been shooting them at a range two weeks earlier.

Based on what she said, the police concluded that they had the most clich├ęd script of all — the lovers’ quarrel. They went looking for Mr. Thornhill, and found him on the highway, driving home from a class. They pulled him over and started interrogating him.

But he was the wrong man, and the police were at the wrong place.

That gave Mr. Cho time, and he had uses for it.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"I Will No Longer Run"

See some good overviews (NYT and LAT) today. We have a little progress on Cho Seung-Hui's state of mind :

- he's not a traumatized war vet but he turns himself into one: the manifesto. A decent commentary

- warning signs appeared in the Fall 2005: In October 2005, his creative writing professor kicked him out of class because his writing was 'intimidating" and frightening other students. The department chair found Cho's response "arrogant" with an "underlying tone of anger." In November 2005, a female student complained of "annoying" contact with Cho but did not press charges. In December 2005, a second female student complained to campus police about Cho's instant messages. Police told Cho to stop contacting her. Acquaintances of Cho said he may be suicidal and he was referred to a mental health facility. A counsellor recommended involuntary commitment to a mental health facility; a judge signed an order saying that Cho "presents an imminent threat to self or others." There, a doctor determined that he was mentally ill but not a threat - which was apparently true at the time. In Fall 2006, in another creative writing class, Cho's fellow students refused to analyze his work, one of his English professors contacts a dean of students about his behavior. She gets no usable information, and deals with Cho in her own way - "Cho was allowed to remain in the seminar but was placed off to the side, where . . . he did not speak."

- Cho was "shunned" more than he was treated, even in class. He was one of those informal social pariah at whose cafeteria table dormmates won't sit - the classic "loser" whose misery and isolation produces even more pathetic attempts to make contact and even more aversion. Cho's roommate remarked that in the video Cho is a "totally different person. He was staring straight at the camera, and he never stared into our eyes or even looked at us." Cho's parents put him in the dorm in order to help him make these contacts. But Cho's life became defined by repeated failures to do exactly this.

- The pain of this kind of repeated, general rejection is excruciating. It can lead to the disintegration of the ego that is one of the standard sources of psychosis.

- "Psychosis" - what do we mean by this word? At first, Freud thought it could be traced to a "defensive conflict against sexuality," and Cho did lash out against alleged debaucheries at Virginia Tech. Then it seemed that psychosis takes over from mere neurosis when the ego loses contact with reality and lives entirely in a world of fantasies. These fantasies may compensate for the ego's crushed state, and we could cite the fabricated omnipotence of the gun-wielding campus commando that Cho became in his movie.

- Psychosis II: we could instead see psychosis not as the break with reality but as a final solution to a break that has already been established. The solution is a forced reestablishing of contact with those whom the subject feels have rejected contact. Strangers are included since the prior pattern of rejection is so complete and generalizable to anybody. The renewed contact is psychotic because it is willing to establish contact even at the price of destroying the contacted object.

- Murder is the final contact. And suicide is completely consistent with it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rampage Aftermath Day 2

A victim's list with information. Unbelievably sad.
Hey, if you'd brought your piece to class, you'd be alive right now
Belaboring the obvious ("Gunman Showed Signs of Anger"!)
In the rampage classroom
Our classic theme: suicide by homicide
In general, the chasm between being shunned and killing everyone is stumping the country.

VT Killer Not a Vet, Just an English Major

The media is being brilliant as usual: "Cho Seung-Hui Penned Violent Plays: 'Richard McBeef' & 'Mr. Brownstone.'" Thanks. That explains it. He was angry and troubled. He was a loner. I would rather have Dick Cheney give me a nose job than have the media explain my psyche. I'd learn more from listening to Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" and P.O.D's "Youth of the Nation," which in fact I just did.

None of this - or the stupid references to "resident alien" - gets even close to the simple fact about this guy's kill kill kill. Most people could point a gun at a tree 33 times. They couldn't fire at 33 ducks, or kill 33 gophers. They couldn't throw 33 rocks into a pond. How exactly do you kill, one, then another person, and another and another, and get to 33??

Who's cracking next? Where are his guns?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Hunting Students at Virginia Tech

No news on the motive of the shooter who killed at least 33 people at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia this morning. He is apparently dead of a self-inflicted wound. He seems to have killed two students in a dorm around 7:15 am, then killed 31 more students two hours later in an engineering building in a different part of campus. Among many other questions about another insane bloodbath: where was he for two hours between the killings? What was he doing? What were the cops doing?

And of course my first question is always: was this guy a vet?

So so sorry everyone.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

"Aurelio Zen" Crimes Series Author Dies

We didn't get to read a Michael Dibdin novel in the course, but I may change that next time around. Dibdin died in Seattle this week of undisclosed causes. Raised in England, Dibdin wound up living in Italy for a long time, where he taught English at the University of Perugia in the 1980s. After getting fired by a new program director, Dibdin published his first novel, "Ratking," in his early 40, and then wrote 10 more, each set in a different Italian city. Dibdin's Italy is as noir as it gets. He once said that Italian society "is collusion. They're all guilty. There' s always a deal being made. 'I know you're corrupt and you know I'm corrupt, and I know you know,' etc." In the midst of a crooked, mobbed up, violent society that is equally saturated with beauty and pleasure, the detective, Aurelio Zen, watches rather than strikes back. "It was a face that gave nothing away yet seemed always to tremble on the brink of some expression that never quite appeared. Zen's subjects found themselves shut up with a man who barely seemed to exist, yet who mirrored back to them the innermost secrets of their hearts."

R.I.P. Mr. Dibdin. Luckily Aurelio Zen lives on. The 11th novel, End Games, is due out this later year. See also a list of the Zen novels. The Guardian has a nice obituary.

thanks to Jocelyn Y. Stewart at the Los Angeles Times for citations and other material.

Wife Murders Her Minister Husband,1,5696215.story

Murder trial begins for minister's wife
Mary Winkler's husband, a Church of Christ preacher, was found with a fatal shotgun wound last spring in Tennessee.

By Jenny Jarvie
Times Staff Writer

April 13, 2007

SELMER, TENN. — Why did the preacher's wife allegedly kill her husband in their church parsonage?

That question has perplexed residents of this small western Tennessee town ever since Mary Winkler was charged last year with fatally shooting her husband, Matthew, with a 12-gauge shotgun. On Thursday, as her first-degree murder trial got underway, attorneys presented two starkly different answers.

Prosecutors said Mary Winkler calmly planned her husband's murder, fearing he would soon find out she had deposited counterfeit checks from a "Nigerian scam" into their joint bank accounts.

Defense attorneys portrayed Winkler, 33, as a long-suffering victim of emotional and physical abuse who had tried to cover bruises with make-up and visited her doctor with a "severely swollen jaw."

The killing was an accident, the defense said. Winkler fired the gun while intending to provoke her husband to talk about an incident involving their 1-year-old daughter, Breanna.

"The morning he did what he did to Breanna, she was going to get his attention with the very thing he had always threatened her with: a shotgun," defense attorney Steven Farese said during opening statements in McNairy County Justice Center. He did not elaborate on the incident.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, said the shooting was a deliberate and premeditated act, motivated by Winkler's fear that her husband would find out the extent of their financial troubles.

"The house of cards was falling down," said Walt Freeland, assistant district attorney, explaining that the day before the shooting, Mary Winkler had received several phone calls from representatives of her local bank urging her to come in with her husband to discuss account "irregularities."

The defense countered that Matthew Winkler made all decisions regarding household administration, instructing his wife to write checks so his own credit rating would not be not tarnished.

Matthew Winkler, 31, a pulpit minister at Selmer's Fourth Street Church of Christ, was found fatally wounded from a single shotgun blast. Fired at close range while he lay in bed on the morning of March 22, 2006, the round drove 77 steel pellets into his back, fracturing his spine and perforating his ribs, left lung, diaphragm, stomach and spleen.

His wife was arrested one day later in Orange Beach, Ala., with their three daughters.

For more than a year, this Bible Belt community of 4,500 has speculated about Mary Winkler's motives. By all accounts, she was the model minister's wife: quiet and meek, happily married, a devoted mother.

"Matthew and Mary Winkler had what appeared to everyone who observed them, those on the outside, to have had a marriage made in heaven," Farese said. "But behind closed doors it was a living hell."

Matthew Winkler's grandmother and brothers shook their heads as Farese described him as a domineering leader of the household, destroying objects that his wife loved, isolating her from her family, telling her she could not eat lunch because she was too fat.

"She had to be perfect to be the preacher's wife," Farese said.

Mary Winkler, dressed demurely in a navy suit with a small cross around her neck, raised a crumpled tissue to her nose as Farese outlined the difficulties of her marriage.

After opening statements, Matthew Winkler's father, Dan Winkler, also a Church of Christ minister, testified that he talked to his daughter-in-law after her arrest. "I said, 'I am so sorry for all of this,' and I told her I wished I could take the handcuffs off and I could give her a big bear hug," he said.

But Mary, he said, never apologized to him. "She should have," he added.

Farese suggested that Dan Winkler, who now has custody of his three grandchildren and recently filed a $2-million wrongful-death lawsuit against Mary Winkler, had manipulated the three girls against their mother. Prosecutors expect to call the eldest daughter, who is 9, to testify about what she saw on the morning of the homicide.

Dan Winkler has refused to let his daughter-in-law see her children, Farese said.

"What's your personal feeling: Do you think Mary should see her children today?" Farese asked.

Dan Winkler stared into the distance for a few seconds, apparently struggling to formulate an answer, before Farese abruptly withdrew the question.

The trial is expected to take about two weeks. If convicted of first-degree murder, Mary Winkler could receive a life sentence. But the jury will also have the option of finding her guilty of a lesser charge.

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ARTICLE 2,1,6154969.story

Interview with minister's wife played at trial

Mary Winkler sobbed and talked of reaching into a closet for a shotgun. She is charged in her husband's death.

By Jenny Jarvie
Times Staff Writer

April 14, 2007

SELMER, TENN. — Jurors in the trial of a minister's wife charged with first-degree murder heard a tape of her speaking in sobs during an interview with investigators the day after her husband's body was discovered in the parsonage.

"I didn't just get up and say, 'Hey, let's see how this thing works,' " said Mary Winkler, 33, apparently alluding to the shotgun used in the killing. "I was battling; I've been battling it not to do that forever. And I don't know why."

Winkler had recently been arrested at an Alabama resort about 340 miles from Selmer, the couple's western Tennessee hometown. She had been with their three young daughters.

An agent with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation was questioning her.

Winkler sobbed frequently in the recording. She said she reached up to get the shotgun from a closet and suggested she was in the bedroom, balancing on pillows on the floor, around the time of the shooting.

"It was not as loud as I thought it would be," she said.

But, as defense attorneys repeatedly pointed out, Winkler stopped short of saying she shot her husband, Matthew.

Many of her statements consisted of "um," "I don't know" and "uh-huh."

It was a "total blur," she said, when pressed to describe what happened immediately after the shooting.

Defense attorney Steven Farese suggested that Alabama agent Stan Stabler misled Winkler that her recorded statement would not be made public. He accused Stabler of pressing Winkler with increasingly loaded questions.

Farese also drew out the fact that Winkler did not verbally answer Stabler's repeated question of whether she shot her husband. "On the seminal issue in this case — whether Mary Winkler shot her husband — you say there was no verbal response?" Farese asked.

"With nodding, she affirmed to me," Stabler replied.

"Nodding?" said Farese theatrically. "Nodding?"

The defense, which is arguing that the shooting was accidental, suggested Winkler was tired and disoriented when she was interviewed. She paused for long periods of time, sobbed and asked for questions to be repeated.

"I just can't right now," she said when Stabler asked her to tell him what was troubling her. She said she was just not up to that.

Winkler suggested on the tape that the couple's domestic relationship had deteriorated after years of conflict, but she did not provide specifics.

She said repeatedly that she feared her husband's reputation would be smeared in newspapers and in court. Winkler, 31, was a minister at Selmer's 4th Street Church of Christ.

"There's no reason for him to have anything ugly because I have obviously done something very bad, so let me just, you know, be the, get the bad," she said.

Winkler took pains to speak well of her husband.

"He was a mighty fine person, and that's the thing," she said. "You just say, 'The lady was a moron.' " She added: "That's fine with me."

But she did reveal a few things about her husband.

"I love him dearly, but gosh, he just nailed me in the ground," she said. "Just chewing, whatever."

Winkler also said her husband had threatened her physically, referring to an incident six years ago when they lived in Pegram, Tenn.

"He said something that really scared me," she said. "I don't know, something life-threatening." She didn't elaborate.

In another interview, with a special agent of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation named Chris Carpenter, Winkler talked of her husband's criticism of her, according to the interview summary Carpenter wrote. The interview wasn't taped.

Winkler said her husband criticized "the way I walked, what I ate, everything," according to the summary. She also mentioned financial pressures, which she described to Carpenter as "mostly my fault, bad bookkeeping."

"I was just tired of it," she was quoted as saying. "I guess I just got to a point and I snapped."

During cross-examination of Carpenter, defense attorney Leslin Ballin continued the argument that the state had insufficient evidence that Winkler deliberately shot her husband.

"You didn't write down that Mary pointed the shotgun at Matthew, did you?" Ballin asked. "You didn't write down that Mary intentionally pulled the trigger, did you?"

"She did not tell me she intentionally pulled the trigger," Carpenter replied.